In the wilderness of New Mexico, the mountains still tell of this tragic love story.
|What is this? On a two-week hike on the Philmont Ranch through the New Mexico wilderness, I heard a story of a certain outcropping of stone that was called Lover's Leap. I gazed at the ledge as I heard in the midday sun the ancient legend of love that played itself out at this spot. What follows is my interpretation of this tragic romance.
The dusty ground rumbled with footsteps
From fifty horses moving as one,
Their long, dark shadows lighting the way
As they galloped full speed from the sun.
A cheer called out from a rider
Cued the rest to do the same;
A war cry echoing louder
From mountains with yet no name.
Each horse with its rider was burdened,
Though this was not half their load;
For they were skillful Apache hunters,
That troop moving swift o’er the road.
A dozen deer and as many fox,
And two bears, old and strong:
Each horse was laden by the weight of the kill,
Though the journey was not very long.
The hunters rose through the valley barren,
The only shade before their feet,
The tired, hot sun pushing them from behind,
Wishing their journey complete.
Another cry caressed their ears
As it echoed off outcrops of stone;
But the shout was not theirs, coming from above:
They were not in this valley alone.
One of the men pointed up to his right,
And each gaze moved to the spot;
Every face opened a curious gaze
As they slowed their beasts down from a trot.
A magnificent edifice of uncovered stone
Rose out from the southern hill;
And on the edge of the cliff overlooking the drop
Were two figures, one kneeling, both still.
Each man began to his neighbor whisper,
Each horse soon turned to the sight,
For the kneeling man like a chief was clothed:
His headdress an eagle in flight.
They watched in suspense as the other, a woman,
Like a spirit in garments and poise,
Took a step back, shaking slightly her head:
For a moment there was not a noise.
Slowly deliberately, the man stood up,
In that second so handsome and tall;
Like a king surveying his domain from on high,
He turned from the lass to the fall.
The light, turning red as the sun shed its blood,
Revealed half the regal man’s face;
And even from that distance, a hundred feet down,
They saw a sparkle: a tear his cheek traced.
Like the eagle soaring above his head
He stretched out his wings to fly.
And for a moment he did, shouting for all to hear:
“And so your love shall die!”
The spell was broken when he started to fall,
To the earth racing like a stone;
And each man swore when the earth touched his head,
He let out his last love-struck groan.
It had been not a second, yet a lifetime it seemed.
For the young man’s flight to stop;
Yet for several more moments, the men held their breaths,
Each wondering the cause for that drop.
Suddenly, as one, the men jumped from their mounts,
An unspoken order now known:
Half to the site of the fallen star,
The rest to from whom he had flown.
They saw first the bear hide cloak he had worn,
Those who ran to the foot of the cliff,
Covering his back, his sprawled legs and arms,
Only visible his pained face, his brow stiff.
Several began digging a hole for his grave
With rocks and knives, a bare hand;
While others so gravely picked up his corpse
To place him in the pit of sand.
As they laid the body down, forever to sleep,
Near the spot he had finished his race,
Each man felt a whisper, like a passing soul,
And saw a smile fix itself on his face.
They began to cover his body with dirt,
Broken and bloodied from love;
And once covered they saw an eagle land at his head,
The eagle that had once been above.
Meanwhile the others ran up the slope,
Sprinting to the one on the edge;
The valley was low, and the hill of steep shale:
It was some time ‘fore they reached the ledge.
She still stood as she had for some time,
A spirit of stone, still and sad:
A silhouette against the nearly set sun,
A mysterious, surreal aura she had.
Out stepped a lad who knew best her tribe’s tongue
To ask her what had passed here;
For a moment she was still, but she turned to the youth:
On her face was a familiar tear.
He had once been the son of a chief,
And she the fairest girl;
He had brought her here to ask for her love,
Or from the edge he would himself hurl.
He asked her once, that handsome, strong man,
And begged her when she did refuse;
But she would not give this man her love,
For she feared his love she’d lose.
True to his word he jumped off the rock,
Flying away from his lover;
And she knew in her heart, as she saw him rise,
That she could love no other.
So she stepped to the edge and surveyed like he did
The beautiful landscape all round;
But to her eyes the sunset was dull as dirt,
The song of the birds made no sound.
There she stood like a tree all alone,
Her roots now shriveled and dying,
For she had refused the golden fruit of life
Who several seconds below her was lying.
Suddenly it struck her, just what she had done:
She had one half of her killed.
A single tear escaped from her weary eye,
A tear no force could have stilled.
The man helped the woman descend down the cliff,
A much harder path than straight down,
And, together with those who had buried the man,
Rode off to a place less renown.
She died two days later in a borrowed abode,
From all she stayed far apart.
When they found her body, all alone in her bed,
She had died from a broken heart.
Two mounds of dirt at the base of a cliff,
By time now long washed away,
Were the only markers of two lovers’ graves,
Which remain undisturbed to this day.
Through death their love was finally revealed
At the foot of a cliff so steep.
And because to show his love one had to fly,
They named the place “Lover’s Leap.”